By Spc. Michael Pfaff, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky Army National GuardAugust 11, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - This place looks like the set of The Transporter.
The backdrop: a quaint German village is nestled snugly on a hillside encircling an ancient Bavarian castle perched atop like some crown jewel of the region. Narrow cobblestone roads snake down the hill through the village. It's a beautiful sunny, summer day and a warm breeze causes the trees to sway slightly. From afar, it's like looking at a painting.
The screech of pavement burning through rubber disrupts the tranquil, serene setting.
Sgt. Michael Lynch, a squad leader with the Headquarters Company from the U.S. Army Garrison in Belgium, is learning how to perform a 'J-turn' maneuver, a driving stunt designed to take a car in reverse and quickly spin it 180 degrees. This training is part of an Anti-Terrorism Evasive Driving, or ATED, course offered via the Joint Multinational Training Command's Combined Arms Training Center.
Eleven Soldiers are paired up, all driving high-end European cars - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, you name it - and in line to attempt the same stunt on a sprawling course littered with orange cones and spraying water hoses.
Lynch's car spins to a violent halt and a voice, with a thick German accent, crackles over a hand-held radio attached to the dashboard.
"Very good, but try it with more speed next time."
This is the voice of Lowe Karl-Heinz. He's the course manager and chief instructor of driving courses at the Verkehrswacht here. The Verkehrswacht offers a vast array of driving courses for local Germans, motorcyclists, and even a bicycle safety course for children, but today Soldiers are enrolled in the advanced driving courses.
The ATED course is a specialized course for Soldiers tasked with driving and providing personal security to VIPs - generals, congressmen, diplomats, and dignitaries - throughout Europe and Northern Africa. It's been offered since the early 80s and continues to thrive, adapting to the needs of the Army, as one of the premier driver courses in Europe.
Not only do the Soldiers undergo rigorous safety exercises, like driving an out-of-control, fishtailing car on icy terrain and rollover drills at a Mercedes dealership, but they also learn methods for evading terrorist attacks on their convoys.
Sgt. David Bryson, a VIP driver with Bravo Company, AF North, out of Heidelberg, Germany, has been teamed up with Lynch during the five-day course. He's riding 'shotgun' during Lynch's J-turn and providing critique and encouragement.
"The 'J-turn' we're doing here is the most effective getaway for us," Bryson said. "It's a change of directions, as well as a last minute resort. Once you can pull it, you can pull it in operational. And, both vehicles can do it together so you can change a convoy's direction without having to turn everyone around."
Today, the training is all about practicing the J-turn. It's one of the more advanced maneuvers and both Lynch and Bryson will learn to do it in a variety of situations.
"We'll do J-turns in a straight line, J-turns in a curve, J-turns to the left, J-turns to the right - then we'll go back and do one as a convoy," Bryson said.
After Lynch's second attempt, he absorbs the advice of Karl-Heinz and whips the BMW he's driving around back in line. A nervous look passes between the two Soldiers and it is evident what's at stake.
Lynch: "Oh you want to drive'"
Bryson: "Hell yeah, I wanna drive!"
The thing about this training is, Lynch said, it's not only the best driving course he's been to, but the training atmosphere is unparalleled. The Soldiers all try to blend in and wear civilian clothes. It's a laid back environment and the driving is just plain fun. More importantly, the instructors are subject matter experts.
"They've done stuff with us that blew my mind," Bryson chuckled. "As an example, the gentleman that's giving us instructions right now over the [hand-held radio], we rode with him in a car yesterday and he hit the skid plate with his eyes closed and reacted. He hit it and came back out between two cones. So they know what they're doing, hands down."
Small class sizes (with a maximum of 15 students) allow the instructors plenty of one-on-one training with each Soldier. This helps the instructors infuse their skill and confidence into the Soldiers they're training, Bryson said.
"We did a lane change yesterday with 10 meters between the targets; you had to stay in your lane and you had a 10 meter gap to change lanes," he said. "We were doing that at 90 [kilometers per hour]. To be able to pull that off without hitting anything, you're on the edge and with that type of ability it lets you know what you can do."
Lynch said he would recommend this training not only to VIP drivers and personal security details, but to any Soldier who wishes to be a better driver in general.
"I mean, we all drive to work; we all drive to pick up the kids at school; we all do that stuff," Lynch said. "The thing that I really like about this course is that not only does it help you with your job, but it makes you a better driver period."
And, being better drivers is what this course was designed to teach Soldiers how to do. After Lynch, Bryson and the other nine Soldiers complete their training they'll be certified in the ATED course and will have the confidence to keep any VIP under their wing safe from terrorist attacks and other hazards.
"This is the cat's meow of driving courses for anybody with an opportunity to take it," Bryson said. "I've been driving since I was nine years old in the States on a farm. And for me to come to this course, I've learned more here than my entire time I've been driving, because here you push it to the limit."